UK
22/07/2013 11:55 BST | Updated 22/07/2013 11:57 BST

BT Accused Of Aiding US Drone Strikes In Yemen From UK Base

BT has become embroiled in the major international controversy over drone strikes in Yemen, as it was alleged that the telecoms giant supplied key communications equipment to connect bases that facilitate the deadly missions.

The company reportedly has a £15m four-year contract with the US government to supply key communications infrastructure between RAF Croughton, a US military base in the UK, and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the covert centre from which armed drones carry out lethal operations over Yemen.

Human rights charity Reprieve has filed a complaint with the UK Government against the telecoms company.

yemen drone

Yemen protesters express their angry about ongoing drone strikes

“BT provides telephony and communications which link up governments and thousands of organisations all over the world. We are comfortable having the US government as a client," BT told HuffPost UK.

“The US’ secretive and illegal campaign of drone strikes in Yemen is killing civilians and traumatising communities, yet it remains largely hidden from the eyes of the world," Catherine Gilfedder, Reprieve’s corporate social responsibility advocate.

"BT needs to give a clear answer on whether or not they are involved in facilitating this deadly programme.

"Its shareholders must demand this if their own responsible reputations are to be maintained. Hopefully this complaint will encourage the company to be open about its activities and take steps to ensure it is not complicit in the brutal violations suffered by Yemeni civilians.”

Drone strikes in Yemen are tolerated by its government in order to hunt down Al Qaeda operatives, but locals living in the country's Mareb Province say they live in constant fear of the strikes, which hit without warning.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes in Yemen have killed between 240 and 349 people since they began in 2002. Between 37 and 97 of those killed were said to be civilians, up to 11 of them children.

In 2010, a drone strike accidentally hit a vehicle carrying Jabir al-Shabwani, the deputy governor of Mareb and three other passengers, all of whom were killed. The Wall Street Journal reported that some officials suggested it was deliberate misinformation from the Yemeni government, which had a rift with Shabwani, that was to blame for his death.

Reprieve has complained to the UK National Contact Point for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and called for the body to investigate BT’s possible contribution to the gross violations of international law and human rights that the use of drones in non-war zones entails.

The National Contact Point will now invite submissions from BT and issue an Initial Assessment within three months.